Monday, September 21, 2009

A Quarter of West Virginians in poverty

A new report by a state budget think tank says that quarter of West Virginians live in poverty. The study says that the effects of poverty are even worse on the state's children. Every time that state's poverty percentage climbs just one percent, it puts another 8,000 children in poverty.

From The Charleston Gazette, Alison Knezevich has this analysis of the report.

The recession could increase the number of children living below the poverty line by more than a third, to 34 percent, say analysts at the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy. Economists define the poverty line as a household income of $21,910 or less for a family of four.

On Thursday, the U.S. Census Bureau released data showing that 13.2 percent of Americans lived in poverty in 2008 -- the most since 1997. State and local figures are set to come out Sept. 22.

But "this data that's coming out ... is not going to really reflect the reality of West Virginia today," said Paul Miller, a policy analyst at the center. "The worst is still on the horizon for West Virginia's children."

That's because West Virginia entered the recession later than most states, he said. The U.S. Census poverty rates are based on data from last year -- when only 4.5 percent of West Virginians were unemployed. This July, the state's unemployment rate was 8.6 percent, according to Workforce West Virginia's latest data.

The state's poverty rates were high even before the recession hit. About one in five West Virginians lived below the poverty line, and one in four children did, Miller said.

Applications for public assistance are also growing at a staggering rate as more West Virginians turn to programs like the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps.

Between November 2008 and June 2009, food-stamp caseloads grew 20 percent, according to data the state Department of Health and Human Resources gave to Miller. In the 22 months before that, cases had grown only 6 percent.

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